JOHNSTOWN - A long-time, beloved Fulton-Montgomery Community College professor will have to retire against his wishes because reversing his retirement decision could establish a precedent, college officials said Thursday.
History professor Jonas Kover has been teaching at the college since 1969. At 68, he wants to continue teaching for years to come. Several years ago, though, he submitted his letter of resignation after going through nearly 40 radiation treatments for cancer.
"It just knocks the stuffing out of you," Kover said of the disease and treatment. "I was feeling terrible and thought, well I guess that's it."
So Kover told college officials he would retire. A while later, though, he started to feel better and realized he wasn't quite ready to stop teaching. According to college officials, his resignation letter cannot be reversed.
"It's within the collective bargaining agreement [with the union]," FMCC President Dustin Swanger said. "It's in the contract."
Swanger said if the college were to let Kover rescind his request for retirement, it could establish a bad precedent that would open the college up to potential lawsuits.
"If we let [Kover] back, and then another instructor asks to be reinstated and we don't allow it, we could open ourselves up to a discrimination lawsuit," Swanger said.
Kover said he feels his situation is an exceptional one.
"We make exceptions for a lot of things," he said. "Sometimes, there are extenuating circumstances. [Swanger] has legality on his side, but in cases like this, I think there should always be a little wiggle room."
A former student of Kover's, Fonda-Fultonville High School teacher Mary Brown, addressed the Board of Trustees on Thursday night. She said she became a teacher partially because of Kover.
Brown said she knows of students whose lives have been changed by Kover and said many view his method of teaching as extremely engaging and effective. She said she recommends to her FMCC-bound students that they try and get a class with Kover.
Former FMCC Student Trustee Barbara Wheeler also addressed the board and said Kover is a fantastic professor who is a great addition to the college. Swanger agreed.
"He is a great asset to the college," he said.
Still, reinstating him isn't an option, Swanger said. He said the college has invited Kover to return as an adjunct professor. Adjuncts can teach three classes while full-time professors teach five. Adjuncts also do not receive the same benefits and pay rates as full-time professors. Kover currently has a base pay of about $80,000.
Students have organized petitions seeking Kover's reinstatement and have put posters up asking he be allowed back. When the students asked him if he would mind if they talked to college officials about his reinstatement, Kover said he couldn't discourage them.
"This is what I teach them about. It's a free country," he said. "We live in a good place. They have the right to be heard. It's what I've been teaching all along."
If his retirement sticks, Kover said, he is more than willing to return as an adjunct. He said retirement is a big decision and a big change that he isn't ready to make quite yet.
"[The students] appreciate the way I teach and I appreciate that they come to class and they learn, and they do," he said.
Kayleigh Karutis covers Gloversville news. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.